Saudi Aramco’s Ras Tanura oil refinery and terminal. Income from crude exports helped the country’s budget deficit to narrow 43 per cent. Image Credit: Reuters

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia is investing in future technologies such as electric carmaker Tesla Inc. to hedge against oil. But it’s the black stuff that’s still helping the kingdom shore up its finances.

Finance ministry data released last week showed that income from crude exports surged 40 per cent in the first six months of 2018, causing the budget deficit to narrow 43 per cent. Non-oil revenue also jumped after authorities introduced value-added taxation.

Below are four main takeaways from the budget report:

Beating the Target

In January, authorities handed out 50 billion riyals ($13.33 billion) in new benefits to support Saudis days after raising fuel prices and introducing VAT, casting doubts over the government’s ability to meet its budget deficit target of 7.3 per cent of gross domestic product.

The additional oil revenue mean the kingdom is “on track for a narrower deficit this year,” said Khatija Haque, head of Middle East and North Africa research at Emirates NBD, Dubai’s biggest bank. “The higher oil prices have provided the fiscal space to boost spending.”

The median budget deficit forecast of eight economists surveyed by Bloomberg is at 5.5 per cent of GDP for 2018, compared with 8.9 per cent last year.

Oil reliance

The 298 billion riyals Saudi Arabia reaped in the first half from oil sales represents 61 per cent of its full-year target. Oil made up about 70 per cent of total revenue in the second quarter, compared with 62 per cent in the same period a year earlier.

The rebound in oil prices helped the economy grow 1.2 per cent — the first expansion in five quarters. Non-oil economic growth, however, remained muted at 1.6 per cent.

Non-hydrocarbon revenue climbed by about 50 per cent, but customs receipts fell “due to the weak economic backdrop,” Mohammad Abu Basha, head of macro analysis at investment bank EFG-Hermes in Cairo, wrote in a report.

Spend more

Capital expenditures climbed 45 per cent in the second quarter after shrinking in the previous three months. When annualised, the outcome is less impressive at 3 per cent, Abu Basha said.

For the non-oil economy to recover, investment spending needs to accelerate in the second half of the year, he said.

War and Welfare

Defence and social benefits were two areas seeing significant increases in spending during the first half.

“Military spending accounts for around 20 per cent of the budget,” Emirates NBD’s Haque said. “This will include salaries and pensions for military employees.”